Thailand Allows Generic Versions Of AIDS, Heart Drugs

Generic version of blockbuster heart drug Plavix approved.

Thailand's health ministry said Jan. 29 that it had approved generic versions of the anti-AIDS drug Kaletra and the blockbuster heart drug Plavix, despite outrage among pharmaceutical companies. "We have already issued compulsory licenses for two drugs, Plavix and Kaletra, in order to make the price more affordable in Thailand. Right now, the price of these two drugs is very high," a health ministry spokesman said.

The announcement follows Thailand's decision in November to allow generic versions of pharmaceutical giant Merck's high-priced HIV/AIDS drug Efavirenz.

But the decision to break the patent for Plavix -- sold by Sanofi-Aventis and Bristol Myers-Squibb -- marks a departure from a global trend of trying to lower prices on AIDS drugs.

Plavix, a blood-thinning treatment to prevent heart attacks, is believed to be the second-largest medication sold worldwide with global sales of $5.9 billion in 2005.A Canadian company briefly introduced a generic version last year before getting pulled from shelves due to court challenges over the patent's validity.

The latest decision drew sharp warnings from pharmaceutical firms who warned they would have to reconsider their investments in Thailand. "They are concerned about continuing to invest in a country where the government cannot provide a basic guarantee for the safety of their assets," the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers' Association (PReMA) said Jan. 25.

Thailand's universal HIV/AIDS treatment program has been hailed as a success in the fight against the disease, largely because of the country's ability to provide anti-retroviral drugs to patients. AIDS activists and others had praised Thailand's decision to lower the cost of HIV treatments last year, In 2002, the Thai government launched a generic version of HIV/AIDS triple therapy and was able to cut the cost of treatment 18-fold.
Thailand's treatment program has been widely credited with slashing the number of deaths from AIDS by about 75% last year and the number of new annual HIV infections continues to drop.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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